In the opening round of the Super 8s Qualifiers, Leigh Centurions were able to claim a dogged 38-12 victory against a resilient Featherstone Rovers at the LD Nutrition Stadium. The score line was perhaps a tad harsh on the Championship side, who were competitive until the Super League club’s quality pushed them into an unassailable lead.
Leigh struck first blood within the opening three minutes through half back Daniel Mortimer. A slick flat pass from the Aussie sent Atelea Vea through a gaping hole in the Rovers defence, with Mortimer in support to claim the opening score.
This lead was doubled three minutes later, again due to the talismanic influence of Mortimer. A clever grubber through on the last bamboozled the Featherstone defenders, allowing Greg McNally to extend the Super League club’s advantage. Drinkwater’s second successful conversion pushed Leigh into an early 12-0 lead.
Featherstone looked shell-shocked in the opening stages but good defending in their own half gave them confidence. This allowed them to settle into the game and halfway through the first half, they posted their first points on the board. A barnstorming run by experienced prop Darrell Griffin saw him touch down under the posts carrying 3 Leigh defenders with him. Ian Hardman added the extras to bring the scores to 12-6 for the visitors.
The Rovers resurgence was dented on 24 minutes, as a charge-down to a Leigh kick gave the visitors another set-of-six. The Centurions made the most of the opportunity, with Drinkwater linking up nicely with Greg McNally, putting Mitch Brown over in the corner.
This try did not deter Featherstone’s effort however, with two sets on the Leigh line eventually seeing them cross for what they thought was a try in the closing stages of the half. On referral to the video referee however, Luke Briscoe saw his effort denied with the winger dropping the ball over the line.
Leigh had the chance to grab a crucial score in the final minute, but Cory Paterson couldn’t take Drinkwater’s pass, meaning both teams returned to the dressing rooms with the scores at 16-6 in favour of the Centurions.
Despite Featherstone starting the second half the brightest, Leigh claimed the first score through hooker Liam Hood. An end of set downfield kick from Featherstone was scooped up by Mitch Brown, whose 40 metre break gave the Centurions good field position. This allowed Hood to burrow over between the posts from close range, catching the Rovers defenders of guard.
After a controversial penalty for an incorrect play the ball, Leigh again had possession in a threatening position in the Featherstone half, and again, Mortimer made no mistake in taking advantage of it in the 57th minute. A nicely weighted grubber through was missed by everyone except Matty Dawson, who planted it down to score. Drinkwater’s conversion attempt was good, giving Leigh a solid 28-6 lead.
With the Centurions Super League quality starting to shine through, the visitors crossed again for a second try in two minutes. From the kick off, Leigh made good metres downfield, with Drinkwater looking to place a kick over the sideline to finish the set. The kick however deflected into his hands, allowing him to dummy and stroll over unopposed to put the game out of Rovers reach.
A penalty for holding down let Featherstone piggyback downfield, giving Rivers a chance to post some further points on the board, and this opportunity was taken through Misi Taulapapa. A Connor Farrell offload made its way to Taulapapa, who jinked and darted his way through a broken defensive line to touch down between the posts, bringing the scores to a more respectable 32-12.
This brief resurgence was ended minutes later, with Rovers prop Richard Moore sin-binned for the last 10 minutes for a late hit on McNally, leaving the home side to defend the remainder of the game with 12 men. Featherstone ultimately paid the price for this ill-discipline, with the veteran Mickey Higham showing his class with a break and offload to send McNally over for his second try of the game, giving Leigh a 38-12 win.
Report by Nathan Okell